Biofuel Research at Brookhaven

“Brookhaven pioneered the use of biodiesel heating systems, through a series of projects testing the viability of biodiesel blends in heating oil,” explained C.R. (Krish) Krishna, mechanical engineer and Brookhaven’s lead biodiesel researcher. “Biodiesel has been proven effective as a fuel for combustion engines, but we wanted to show that it could be used successfully in other applications as well.”

C.R. Krishna

Krishna led a biodiesel project in upstate N.Y. from 2003 to 2005 where about 100 homes were switched over to “B-20,” a blend of 20 percent soy-based biodiesel and 80 percent low-sulphur heating oil. No burner modifications were necessary to burn the biodiesel blend, and the results were quite positive. “The heating efficiency was about the same, and we saw a significant decrease in sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions,” said Krishna. “We also think we will see some long-term benefits in terms of maintenance costs.”

The primary obstruction to the widespread use of biodiesel is the price. “It tends to be more expensive than your typical heating oil, but that’s because there isn’t yet a strong market for it,” said Krishna. “Over time, as production and use expands, the price should come down to a competitive level.”

Other Brookhaven projects currently under way include one in New York City, where biodiesel blends will be tested in large industrial apartment building boilers, and another at the Sagamore Hill national historic site in Oyster Bay on Long Island (see sidebar).

The bio-oil collaboration between Brookhaven, KeySpan Energy, and a company called Changing World Technologies (which manufactures the oil) might be the most interesting project to date. KeySpan hopes to eventually use a bio-oil blend in one or more of its large power plants. “We have a genuine interest in clean fuel technologies and renewable fuels, and this is a great business opportunity for us,” said Steve Eber, project manager and principal investigator for KeySpan. “Brookhaven is an important asset for us in that Krish and his colleagues have the ability to address our technical concerns and help us move to the next step.”

Eber said KeySpan hopes to complete the project by this fall, and then make the results public through NYSERDA so they can be shared with other industries across the state.